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British Muslims: New directions in Islamic thought, creativity and activism, by Philip Lewis and Sadek Hamid

14 September 2018

Simon Valentine reads about developments in British Islamic circles

A NEW generation of Muslims, adopting reformist thinking, are challenging some of the traditionalist norms in contemporary British Islam. Such is the argument presented by the authors (one Christian, one Muslim) of this book.

The Christian, Philip Lewis, is an experienced bridge-builder between different religions, particularly Islam and Christianity. Besides serving as the interfaith adviser to the Bishop of Bradford, he has written extensively on Islam and lectured on conflict resolution at the University of Bradford.

The Muslim, Sadek Hamid, is a senior researcher at the Centre for Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford. A respected writer on Islam, he has worked as “an activist, youth and community development professional” within the Muslim community.

Beginning with the interesting case of a mosque run by women in Bradford, chapter one considers how a newly educated Muslim professional class, including women, (English-speaking, not Arabic or Urdu), is critically appraising Islam, and proposing reforms.

Focusing on specific problems, the second chapter discusses the changes needed in the curriculum and methods used in “Islamic seminaries”. With the aim of encouraging independent thinking and creativity, a call is made for madrasahs (schools attached to mosques) to modify and expand their curriculum.

Furthermore, imams and other religious leaders who were trained “back home” in rural Asia and those many who cannot speak English are unable to meet the needs of British Muslims, many of whom want to understand their faith better.

The third chapter grapples with the controversial issue of Islam and democracy, and discusses the greater participation of Muslims, particularly women, in public and civic life.

The emergence and development of radical Islam in the UK is considered in chapter four, with the reasons for militancy, and the apparent failure of the Government’s Prevent policy to contain it.

PAMoeen Ali in action during the England nets session at the Kia Oval in London on 6 September

Chapter five looks at what the authors call “the new Muslim cool”, new expressions of identity arising within British Islam as seen in the lives of Muslim celebrities such as the cricketer Moeen Ali and the comedian “Guz Khan”.

In conclusion, the authors call for “dialogue marked by civility”, so that spaces are provided “where sensitive issues can be discussed” and “creative coexistence” can be established. The book ends with a short, annotated bibliography of key texts, and useful web resources to aid further reading in this all-important subject.

Innovative, informative, and incisive, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in Muslim-Christian relations.

Dr Simon Ross Valentine is a writer on Islam currently living in Iraq.

British Muslims: New directions in Islamic thought, creativity and activism
Philip Lewis and Sadek Hamid
Edinburgh University Press £14.99

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